By Ed Diokno
Views from the Edge
Outside of Caitlyn Jenner, two of the most visible transgender women in the U.S. today are a Hawaii-born journalist and an internationally famous model, who is an immigrant from the Philippines.When the Trump administration rolled back federal mandates for the use of school bathrooms for transgender people, Janet Mock and Geena Rocero had to act. They had to speak out.
Mock’s medium was the New York Times where she published an oped recalling her experience in school.
“I was a Black and Native Hawaiian trans girl from a single-parent home. I was not naïve,” Mock wrote. “I knew that struggle was part of my coming of age, so I wore a smile every day as part of my armor. I didn’t want anyone to see that I was in pain, that I felt like I did not belong and that my body, my clothing, my being was wrong.
“When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet — it also blocks them from public life,” wrote Mock, whose mother is Hawaiian. “It tells them with every sneer, every blocked door, that we do not want to see them, that they should go hide and that ultimately they do not belong. When schools become hostile environments, students cannot turn to them. Instead they are pushed out. And without an education, it makes it that much more difficult to find a job, support themselves and survive.
The day the current administration announced the 180-degree policy shift, Geena Rocero took to the streets and joined the rally Thursday night at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a historically important site in the gay rights movement.
“I stand here with all of you, as a VERY PROUD Transgender Woman of color, an immigrant born and raised in the Philippines,” Rocero said.
“No amount of Hate, No amount of ignorance will diminished our will to honor the beauty, the diversity, the hope of your trans youth.
“In this very moment, in this powerful gathering, in this historic place,” she continued. “History has tried to erase us! I asked you to look at each other, recognize the power in our family, because they will NEVER, EVER ERASE the CIVIL RIGHTS that we deserve. LOVE will win! ”
Despite Trump’s campaign promise to support the rights of the LGBTQ community, the former Olympic athlete Jenner was perhaps the most surprised by the turnaround from the candidate whom she strongly supported in 2016.
Using this administration’s favorite form of communication, Jenner tweeted:“I have a message for President Trump from well, one Republican to another. This is a disaster. And you can still fix it. You made a promise to protect the LGBTQ community,” she said, holding up her hand like a mock telephone. “Call me.”
On Thursday after the policy reversal was signed, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter urging the State Education Department “to issue a directive to all school districts making it clear that – regardless of Washington’s action – the rights and protections that had been extended to all students in New York remain unchanged under state law.
“In New York, whether you are gay, straight or transgender, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people – and we will continue to enforce our laws and stand united against those who seek to drive us apart,” Cuomo said.
In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that in light of action by the Trump administration to roll back federal guidelines, he has signed an executive order ensuring that the rights of transgender students continue uninterrupted.
California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, issued a strident press release on Wednesday vowing that the Golden State will protect the “rights of transgender students.”
“All students deserve a safe and supportive school environment. California will continue to work to provide that environment for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students regardless of any misguided directives by the federal government and the Trump administration,” Torlakson said.
“… California students will continue to have their civil rights protected,” he said. “In California we move forward, not backward.”
In the NYTimes, Mock concluded: “I know first hand how utterly vital it is for young people — for all of us actually — to be met with nods, applause, and open doors. It’s even more urgent for marginalized students, regardless of their ability, race, class, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression and/or identities.
“To young trans folk (and all the people who love them) I just want you to remember that this is your school too. You deserve to be there just as much as any other student. You deserve equal access, affirmation and an education, and you must recognize and I know you know, that you are powerful. You have agency and voice. Use it to organize, combat against ignorance and resist.
Geena Rocero is the founder of Gender Proud, whose work supports transgender communities and their legal rights around the world.